What’s in a deadline?
This is the most intense scrutiny the New Orleans Pelicans have ever experienced. The eyes of the NBA have been locked in on the franchise since Anthony Davis formally requested his way out of New Orleans.
And the roaring chatter will only grow louder as the week marches on, making its way to the trade deadline at 2 p.m. Thursday.
A series of obviously intentioned leaks to media outlets has clearly painted the Pelicans’ options for the week.
The Los Angeles Lakers — Davis’ destination of choice and the catalyst of this entire ordeal — publicly put forward an offer of Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Michael Beasley, Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and a pair of first-round picks.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported they upped the ante, adding Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope into the mix as well.
It might be the best collection of assets the Pelicans ever see. But it doesn’t mean this is the time to pounce on it.
When the Pelicans declined, various reports say the Lakers pulled out of the Davis trade talks entirely, now waiting for the Pelicans to make a valid counter offer to re-open negotiations.
But if the Pelicans wait until the summer, when they'll know the NBA draft order, and negotiate a tangible offer from the Boston Celtics (who aren’t allowed to deal for Davis until then), what harm will it cause?
Early Tuesday morning, ESPN reported the franchise is stubbornly waiting for the Lakers' best offer, hoping to extract as many as four first- and-second round picks, as well as all of Los Angeles’ young talent crop.
There’s still plenty of bridge to cross between that demand and even this latest Lakers offer.
In the meantime, the Pelicans aren’t even bothering to counter. They’re simply declining, agitating the Lakers in the process, who were discouraged by the “one-way conversation,” according to ESPN.
But why would the Pelicans do anything else? What’s the point of countering when Davis’ camp has publicly turned this into a one-team negotiation?
The real pressure this week rests on the Lakers, who need a first-team All-NBA talent to team with 34-year-old LeBron James, and they’d like to achieve it before other teams can elbow their way into the trade market.
The past week revealed the slow drip of news trying to box the Pelicans into a deal with the Lakers, as Davis’ camp attempted to decay all other options in a coordinated publicity campaign.
But there’s nothing else to attack now. It’s a showdown and a stare-down.
New Orleans never intended to trade Davis at this deadline to begin with. So, to get the Pelicans to make a trade now, the Lakers must overwhelm them with an offer the Pelicans don’t believe will last.
Because the fundamental question facing Pelicans’ management is: What does the franchise have to gain by making this move before Thursday instead of waiting until the summer?
From a business perspective, striking a deal now helps sell the Pelicans’ beleaguered fan base on a vision for the future. While watching Jrue Holiday, Frank Jackson and Jahlil Okafor battle in close losses is a glimpse of the immediate future, flipping a trade for the Lakers’ young nucleus nets an entirely new vision the team can sell all summer.
But by all indications, the business side of the organization is staying patient, allowing the basketball side to exert all of its leverage to coax the best offer. Even if it means playing out this season to a largely disinterested audience.
And is the Lakers' offer going anywhere between now and July? Will it shrink if the New York Knicks don’t win the lottery, or if the Celtics don’t put Jayson Tatum in a package of draft picks and young players?
This Lakers' offer, though? The one with just two picks, some salary fillers and a player (Lonzo Ball) whose outspoken father already claims he doesn’t want to be here?
It’s not worth jumping now.
The Lakers can still offer more, including additional players and picks, as well as the option of adding a third team to add assets and to take Ball. Until then, the Pelicans will rightly wait.
It’s a risk. But a calculated one.
For six years, Pelicans management was leveled with criticism for taking shortcuts instead of playing the long game. The foolish strategy cost them the best player in franchise history and put them in this precarious position.
The Anthony Davis era will be remembered for exchanging the future in favor of the present and flipping the unknown into a known. Each time, the results blew up in their faces.
At least so far, the Pelicans’ approach seems different now. Perhaps they’ve learned a lesson.
Doing what’s best at this moment isn’t always what’s best for the future. And the reality check provided by Davis’ request instantly jolted the Pelicans from short-term panicking to long-term planning.
There is no reason to leap at the Lakers' offer and close a deal this week — unless it can change the entire complexion of the franchise and offer a sustainable path into contention.
Four first-round picks, four second-round picks, with pick-swap options in other years and a quartet of young players, is something New Orleans can pivot into a promising future.
Unless an offer of that magnitude comes in, the Pelicans will likely wait until the summer, risking what’s available now for what’s possible then.
A novel concept in New Orleans. And a perfect signal this franchise is serious about starting fresh.